Under a leaden sky in oil- rich southern Nigeria , young men hang around with nothing to do , covering their noses from the noxious fumes of the polluted swamp .

The sight in Bodo , some 40 kilometres (25 miles ) south - east of Port Harcourt , is repeated in communities elsewhere in the maze of creeks that criss - cross Ogoniland.

One year after the launch of a much - heralded clean - up programme , the oil slicks which blackened the waters , killed the fish and ruined the mangroves remain untouched .
Locals, deprived of their livelihoods from fishing and farming , and with the billions of dollars extracted from under them channelled elsewhere , are angry and frustrated .

“ The progress made on the Ogoni clean - up is known only to the government , ” said Fegalo Nsuke, from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People pressure group .

“ The people of Ogoni still cannot have access to safe drinking water, not to talk of electricity, basic schools and roads , ” he told AFP .

– Environmental disaster

In January 2015, there were hopes Ogoniland’ s luck was changing after Shell agreed to pay £ 55 million ($ 70 million , 63 million euros ) in compensation to more than 15 , 500 Bodo people .

The Anglo- Dutch energy giant also agreed to start a clean up of two devastating oil spills in 2008, following a three - year British legal battle that was settled out of court.

In June 2016 , Nigeria ’ s Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo formally launched the project , which the United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP ) said could take 30 years.

So far, however , only $ 10 million of the initial $ 1 billion programme has been released .

Since then, a governing council and trust fund have been set up , and a project coordinator appointed , but no equipment has been moved to the sites , residents say.
Drinking water is still not fit for human consumption .

“ The fact is that Ogoni still drinks poisoned water and remains polluted and these cannot be changed by internal processes and media promotions , ” said Nsuke.

“ Our people are frustrated , ” added Livinus Kiebel, chairman of the Bodo council of chiefs .
“ The environment is completely devastated . ”

– Fish and carcinogens –

Ignatius Feegha , 41, used to catch fish as a child in the waterways of the Niger Delta .

“ I used to wake up around 5 : 00 am with my father to fish and would come back with baskets of fish before going to school , ” said the civil servant .
Today , fishermen are lucky to catch even periwinkles.

Standing near a jetty, Buddy Pango holds up a plastic bottle filled with discoloured water as the heavens open and a boat heading to the Bonny Island natural gas plant speeds by .

“ We can ’ t see no fish in this water because the water is stained with crude oil, ” he said . “ Before we can get some fish , we (must ) go to the ocean and it is very far. ”

In places like Ogale, wells and boreholes are contaminated with the carcinogen benzene at levels more than 900 times above the recommended World Health Organization limit .
Signs beside boreholes warn residents not to drink the water .

“ Every week , at least five people die because of cancer and respiratory diseases , ” said community leader Dandyson Nwawala .

– Clean- up suspended

Roman Catholic priest Father Abel Agbulu , who has been mediating between Shell ’ s Nigerian subsidiary and Bodo locals , said the clean - up could have started earlier but for opposition from some youths .

He said the youths who were unemployed insisted on being paid the money instead of allowing Shell to give the job to contractors.

“ The youths said they wanted money instead . So Shell , which had already engaged two companies to do the job , had to back out , ” he added .

Agbulu said Shell was not ready to give cash to the youths and since they would not allow the contractors to handle the job , decided to suspend the clean - up .

The head of the government -appointed Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP ), Marvin Dekil , said training local workers in the required skills is taking time .

“ We don’ t want… to rush it and get it done in a wrong way, ” he explained .
In the meantime , some locals have taken matters into their own hands and begun planting trees to try to restore the damaged mangroves .

The United Nations Development Programme ’ s representative in Nigeria , Edward Kallon, visited Ogoniland last week and called for patience .

“ This is a very technical investment , it is not a rural type of investment where you are going to see houses built within a short period of time , ” he said .
How long they will have to wait is anyone ’ s guess .


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